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NASA Prepares to Launch First U.S. Asteroid Sample Return Mission

OSIRIS-Rex is heading towards near-Earth asteroid Bennu.


OSIRIS-REx will travel to near-Earth asteroid Benn on a sample return mission Credits NASA

NASA is preparing to launch its first mission to return a sample of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu to Earth. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

The spacecraft is scheduled for launch Thursday, September 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will travel for two years to reach its asteroid target in 2018. Then it will spend another three years to careful survey of Bennu to characterize the asteroid, 3D scan its surface, take its temperature and grab a chunk of 2-to-70-ounceof surface material with its robotic arm and return the sample to Earth via a detachable capsule in 2023, for intensive study.

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“This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it, ” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet and OSIRIS-REx embodies our directorate’s goal to innovate, explore, discover, and inspire.”

The 4, 650-pound (2, 110-kilogram) fully-fueled spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 411 rocket during a 34-day launch period.

NASA added that it plans to give 4 percent of the sample to Canada’s space agency, which is a project partner. Another 0.5 percent will be given to JAXA (Japan’s agency) as thanks for the Hayabusa sample it gave NASA. 75 percent will be stored and kept safe for future techniques that could yield more clues on the beginning of life on Earth.



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